This time last year I expressed in this column that Thanksgiving often creates better pop culture moments than Christmas. As I watched a variety of extremely random thanksgiving television episodes to get myself in the Thanksgiving mood this year, I’m even more convinced. I watched procedurals, dramas, and comedies. And I have discovered the formula for why Thanksgiving television is the most fun.
First, it's the underlying tension built into so many great episodes. It’s like catharsis for the tension so many experience at their actual thanksgivings. Maybe it’s waiting for the slap in How I Met Your Mother’s “Slapsgiving”. I love the awkward “will these secrets get out” moments from season one Thanksgiving episodes of teen drama classics The OC and Gossip Girl. Or the tension of your divorced parents showing up for Thanksgiving in New Girl’s incredible “Parents”. Or the fact that Friends guest star Brad Pitt still wants everyone to hate Rachel Green in “The One with the Rumor.” Either way, there is something stress relieving about us watching other people’s tensions that make real life family tension feel more manageable.
Thanksgiving specials are also really great at putting the actual conversations we want to have at Thanksgiving right in front of us. The all time best example of this is Boy Meets World’s “Turkey Day” . As a rule Boy Meets World can get a little after school specially, but when it does things right, it does them very right. When Shawn and Cory decided to get their parents to do Thanksgiving together in Shawn’s family’s trailer, awkward conversations about class and who should and shouldn’t hang out together are out in the open. But it turns out the kids are alright, concluding on their own “There’s always room at our table” and teaching their parents a lesson. It's the kind of conversation that people could have at Thanksgiving, if we weren’t so afraid of awkwardness. And if we knew things would wrap up nicely in the end.
The last piece of the Thanksgiving puzzle is food hijinks. Let’s be honest, Thanksgiving is a food holiday. When the Gilmore Girls navigate how to go to four very different Thanksgivings, one with tofurky and another deep fried, we can laugh because we’ve probably all experienced at least one odd to us Thanksgiving meal or tradition. When Bob obsesses over the right turkey on Bob’s Burgers, those of us who care too much about getting the meal right awkwardly laugh and say” at least we aren’t that bad”. And when everyone unsuccessfully tries to stop Kirsten from ruining any of the Thanksgiving meal on The OC, the rest of us who feel inadequate about their cooking can relate as well. Food is probably the single most universal experience around Thanksgiving. What would a good Thanksgiving special be without it.
Regardless of our specific preferences regarding Thanksgiving, these pieces work so well because they are relatable. We can laugh at the awkwardness and tension because we have experienced them. Thanksgiving episodes still reign supreme because even though we do our best to show up to our tables thankful, it doesn't erase all the other stuff exactly. It hopefully just puts it in perspective. And that’s what I love about these kinds of television episodes every year. They are universal in their ache for a fun time, a real conversation, and good food. And whether that’s something that feels attainable or not, I hope you, like Shawn and Cory on Boy Meets World or Jess and her roommates on New Girl, can find some people to sit down with, even if its a little awkward, tense, or the food isn’t what you expected. Strange Perspective is a unique weekly look into today's pop culture by Progress columnist Rachel Strange.